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Say WHAT?

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To James Monroe, June 5, 1803

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Leaders loathe leaks!
Jefferson hated having his correspondence made public. That may have been why he loved ciphers, devices or schemes that would allow him to send coded messages. This is his entire letter to his new ambassador to France. This code was one Secretary of State James Madison had given Monroe for diplomatic communication while the latter was still in the United States. I cannot tell if the code is the same one Jefferson developed and gave to Meriwether Lewis.

Why the President felt the need to encode this letter is unclear, unless he was just practicing. The letter explained a canister of tea he was sending to a friend, Madame de Corny, in France. The link for that letter includes the full text, but their deciphering the first part of it yielded this:
“tho mas je fer son to ja mes mon ro june 5 eighteen hundred three this can is ter of te a is for my fri end mad dam de cor ny I ad dre s it to you for del iv ery …”

This seven year old post will tell you more about Jefferson and his ciphers. (The Wall Street Journal link works only if you have a subscription.)

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Thomas Jefferson on using a secret code

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I make a lot of money, but …

… as the salary annexed to my office looks large in every man’s eye, it draws the attention of the needy in every part of the Union and increases the demands of aid, far beyond the proportion of means it furnishes to satisfy them. I am obliged therefore to proceed by rule, & not to give to one the share of another.
To Isaac Briggs, May 20, 1803

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Leaders always have people asking them for favors.
Jefferson’s friend, Isaac Briggs (1763-1825), was an engineer, surveyor and inventor of considerable renown. This short letter covered a half dozen subjects, including the many requests he received for money. Those requests were prompted by the size of the President’s salary.

That salary was $25,000 per year. It was established for President Washington and continued unchanged through the first 18 executives, ending with Ulysses S. Grant. It was a sizeable sum, and it attracted the attention of many who sought the President’s support for their particular cause. In Jefferson’s time, at least, that salary had to cover all the costs of staffing and running the President’s House, later called the White House. Those expenses, increased by Jefferson’s sometimes lavish personal tastes, made his actual compensation far less.

The requests for help were numerous and beyond any ability to satisfy. Jefferson’s rule was that he supported a few personal causes only and would not deprive them to help the masses.

“…what a pleasure it was to have you entertain our guests [on the Mississippi]
The top notch performance you gave was evident …”
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If something is not the truth, is it a lie?

… the idea that you are going to explore the Missisipi has been generally given out: it satisfies public curiosity, and masks sufficiently the real destination. I shall be glad to hear from you, as soon after your arrival at Philadelphia as you can form an idea when you will leave …
To Meriwether Lewis, April 27, 1803

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Do all leaders hedge the truth occasionally?
Meriwether Lewis left Washington for Philadelphia where some of the nation’s preeminent scientists would tutor him further in mathematics, astronomy, botany and medicine. It was common knowledge that Lewis was mounting some type of exploration, but very few knew that he was heading west, up the Missouri River. The President dribbled out some misdirection, that Lewis was going north, up the Mississippi.

Diplomatic overtures to Spain and France over New Orleans and shipping on the lower Mississippi had not been resolved. It was common knowledge that Spain was ceding Louisiana back to France, and that had serious repercussions for America. (France had not yet offered to sell Louisiana, and that possibility had never been considered on this side of the Atlantic.) Jefferson wanted to avoid offending other nations unnecessarily with the idea of sending American explorers through foreign lands without permission.

Lewis was the President’s personal secretary. With all of his travel, it was obvious Lewis was up to something. Thus, Jefferson deliberately promoted something less than the truth … a lie? … to protect his diplomatic maneuvering, provide cover for Lewis, and satisfy “public curiosity.”

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I will tell close friends only and no one else.

A promise to a friend sometime ago, executed but lately, has placed my religious creed on paper. I am desirous it should be perused by three or four particular friends, with whom tho’ I never desired to make a mystery of it, yet no occasion has happened to occur of explaining it to them. it is communicated for their personal satisfaction, & to enable them to judge of the truth or falsehood of the libels published on that subject. when read, the return of the paper with this cover is asked.
To Henry Dearborn and Levi Lincoln, April 23, 1803

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders trust close associates with personal revelation.
In the preceding post, Jefferson shared his personal religious beliefs, in the form of a Syllabus, with an old friend, Benjamin Rush. In this letter, he shared that same information with two of his Cabinet members, Secretary of War Dearborn and Attorney General Lincoln.

Although Jefferson believed his personal views should remain private, he had no hesitation in sharing them with close friends. Writing the Syllabus for Dr. Rush also gave him the opportunity to send copies to several trusted associates. Jefferson was widely criticized in the opposition press on the subject of religion. He could not change what his opponents thought of him, but he did care what his friends thought. Sharing this very private, personal information would allow his friends “to judge of the truth or falsehood” of what they read in the papers.

Always sensitive to criticism and wary of adding fuel to his opponent’s fire, he insisted Dearborn and Lincoln return their copies of the Syllabus along with this cover letter.

“Your portrayal of Thomas Jefferson was riveting.
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You cannot come in until he is gone.

I have delayed writing to you, because my great regard for Capt Lewis made me unwilling to shew a haste to fill his place before he was gone, & to counteract also a malignant & unfounded report that I was parting with him from dissatisfaction, a thing impossible either from his conduct or my dispositions towards him. I shall probably recieve a letter from him on his arrival at Philadelphia, informing me when he expects to be back here, and will have the pleasure of communicating to you the earliest conjecture I can form myself for your government. it cannot now be many days.
To Lewis Harvie, April 22, 1803

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Loyal leaders treat trusted subordinates with respect and sensitivity.
Jefferson had previously invited Harvie to become his personal secretary once Meriwether Lewis left for the West. Lewis held that position but was away from Washington City and had been delayed in his preparations for the journey. The President expected to receive a letter from Lewis soon, with an update on his planned departure.

Jefferson’s respect for Lewis was profound. It would be improper to appoint Lewis’ successor until his departure had occurred. There was another reason for the delay. A false report appeared in several newspapers the month before that Lewis was staging a political journey to the Southwest. Delaying Harvie’s appointment would reinforce Jefferson’s confidence in Lewis and lay those false claims to rest.

“Hearing Thomas Jefferson’s thoughts about democracy, responsibility and leadership …
surely succeeded in reinforcing the call to serve …”
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The rest of that stuff is fake news.

to the corruptions of Christianity, I am indeed opposed; but not to the genuine precepts of Jesus himself. I am a Christian, in the only sense in which he wished any one to be; sincerely attached to his doctrines, in preference to all others; ascribing to himself every human excellence, & believing he never claimed any other. .. I am moreover averse to the communication of my religious tenets to the public; because it would countenance [support] the presumption of those who have endeavored to draw them before that tribunal, and to seduce public opinion to erect itself into that Inquisition over the rights of conscience, which the laws have so justly proscribed.
To Benjamin Rush, April 21, 1803

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
All leaders pick and choose what they will believe.
In writing to his old friend and confidante, Jefferson expressed views very similar to those in his letter to Edward Dowse, the source of the preceding four posts. He expressed his devotion to Jesus, asserted his own Christianity, and warned his friend to keep the matter between the two of them and explained why.

As “to the corruptions of Christianity,” these would be everything in the four gospels that Jefferson thought shouldn’t be there (the unprovable, the miraculous and anything divine), ‘fake news’ in 2018 parlance. His version of Christianity was devotion to Jesus the man, only, and his teachings.

Jefferson did not want to share his “religious tenets” with the public. To do so would support the position of those who thought they had a right to know those beliefs. The Constitution and laws were properly limited to people’s actions only, not their thoughts. No individual or public forum had the right to inquire into what the Constitution decreed as private.

If you care to wade through it, Jefferson enclosed this document with his letter, “Doctrines of Jesus Compared with Others.”

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Your religion is NONE of my business!

[This post is the last of four from this one letter.]

… I never will, by any word or act, bow to the shrine of intolerance, or admit a right of enquiry into the religious opinions of others. on the contrary we are bound, you, I, & every one, to make common cause, even with error itself, to maintain the common right of freedom of conscience. we ought with one heart and one hand to hew [cut] down the daring and dangerous efforts of those who would seduce the public opinion to substitute itself into that tyranny over religious faith which the laws have so justly abdicated. for this reason, were my opinions up to the standard of those who arrogate [claim without justification] the right of questioning them, I would not countenance that arrogance by descending to an explanation.
To Edward Dowse, April 19, 1803

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Principled leaders respect the privacy of all moral beliefs.
Concluding a letter in which Jefferson wrote openly about his appreciation for the superiority of Jesus’ teaching while respecting the contribution of others to the moral canon, he took direct aim at those who sought to inquire into this most private realm:
1. He vowed total opposition to religious intolerance or even questioning another’s beliefs.
2. All are bound to support “the common right of freedom of conscience,” even for those they believe to be in error.
3. Since the Constitution guaranteed religious freedom, the efforts of those who sought any form of religious tyranny should be destroyed.
4. He would not dignify with answers the inquiries of those who claimed a right to question his religious beliefs.

” … our sincere appreciation to you for your exceptional presentation …”
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Jesus compared with other moral authorities, Part 3 of 4

[This post is the third of four drawn from this one letter.]

… their philosophy [all ancient moral authorities except Jesus] went chiefly to the government of our passions, so far as respected ourselves, & the procuring our own tranquility. on our duties to others they were short & deficient. they extended their cares scarcely beyond our kindred & friends individually, & our country in the abstract. Jesus embraced, with charity & philanthropy, our neighbors, our countrymen, & the whole family of mankind. they confined themselves to actions: he pressed his scrutinies into the region of our thoughts, & called for purity at the fountain
To Edward Dowse, April 19, 1803

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
How broad is a leader’s compassion? What is its source?
In the preceding post, Jefferson took issue with another who established Jesus’ superior moral standing by criticizing all other philosophers. Here, Jefferson compared and contrasted what each contributed to the moral canon.

All other ancient philosophers:
1. Taught self-control as a means to personal happiness and contentment
2. Were concerned only for family and friends and abstractly for the government
3. Rarely showed concern for those beyond their immediate circle
4. Confined themselves to actions only, not the motivation for those actions

Jesus:
1. Founded his philosophy on love and generosity
2. Embraced all people, near and far, on that basis
3. Was concerned not with action alone but the internal motivation for that action
4. Good behavior was not enough. Purity of motive was essential, too.

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Do not belittle others to make your point. Part 2 of 4

[This post is the second of four drawn from this one letter.]

… I must also add that tho’ I concur with the author in considering the moral precepts of Jesus, as more pure, correct, & sublime than those of the antient philosophers, yet I do not concur with him in the mode of proving it. he thinks it necessary to libel and decry the doctrines of the philosophers. but a man must be blinded indeed by prejudice, who can deny them a great degree of merit. I give them their just due, & yet maintain that the morality of Jesus, as taught by himself & freed from the corruptions of later times, is far superior
To Edward Dowse, April 19, 1803

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders know effective leadership is not a zero-sum game.
Jefferson agreed with the moral status credited to Jesus by the author of a sermon forwarded to him by Edward Dowse. He did not agree with the author’s method of proving it, which was to belittle the beliefs of other ancient philosophers.

To Jefferson, Jesus could remain the most “pure, correct & sublime” of all philosophers while appreciating what others contributed to the moral canon. One who built up one moral authority while belittling all the others “must be blinded indeed by prejudice.”

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Shall we evangelize the Indians? Part 1 of 4

[This post is the first of four from this one letter.]

I now return the sermon you were so kind as to inclose me, having perused it with attention. the reprinting it by me, as you have proposed, would very readily be ascribed to hypocritical affectation [artificial, pretended, offered only to impress], by those who, when they cannot blame our acts, have recourse to the expedient of imputing them to bad motives. this is a resource which can never fail them; because there is no act, however virtuous, for which ingenuity may not find some bad motive.
To Edward Dowse, April 19, 1803

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Bad leaders will always find a way to criticize virtuous acts.
Dowse (1756–1828), a Massachusetts merchant, had forwarded a sermon by William Bennet, The Excellence of Christian Morality, which had been delivered at a meeting in Scotland. Something in the sermon suggested to Dowse its value in evangelizing the Indians in America, and he asked the President to reproduce it for use by American missionaries.

Jefferson read the sermon carefully and returned it, declining Dowse’s suggestion. Why?
1. As President, he avoided any theological favoritism.
2.His opponents would label him a hypocrite if he now championed this worthwhile effort.
3. Some people were so jaded and clever they could find sinister motives in even virtuous acts.

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